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Colours of 3rd Foot (The Buffs) Lost 1796 May Be Salvaged


Book Reviewer
Ponsborne Shipwreck Expedition 2011 | Facebook

announces a possible dive on the Indiaman Ponsborne off Grenada next year (I have no idea who is behind this). Lost on her shipwreck were the Colours of 3rd Foot. Now read on:

In 1795 the West Indies was riven with insurrection and rebellion, mostly worked up by the French Republican leader Hugues in islands Britain had taken from France. Grenada in particular had been virtually taken over by freed slaves led by a free coloured called Fedon. The Government put up a relief expedition under Rear Admiral Hugh Cloberry Christian, of several armed transports (“ships taken up from trade” - STUFT in modern parlance), convoyed by a strong squadron of warships. There were 216 ships in the force altogether. Sixteen were hired from the Hon. East India Company on the understanding that their three-month voyage would be over in time for them to join the main HEIC Fleet going out the following year (Ha!). The Indiamen were typically to carry 400-man drafts of soldiery.

Returning to moorings from a two-year round trip to the East on 25th July 1795, the Indiaman Ponsborne was requisitioned for this expedition. Her draft was to be from the 3rd Foot (The Buffs).

The crews of the returning Indiamen were immediately pressed to man the warship component of the expedition. Pressing continued to be a problem. It took until 24th September for the Indiamen to reach Gravesend for fitting out and by then they were collectively six hundred men short, which delayed storing - 300 tons of provisions per ship - and also getting the ships’ guns on board.

There was a raft of delays as the authorities struggled to find warships, storeships and seamen. The original August sailing date, never attainable, had long gone by the board. The Indiamen cleared Gravesend on 5th October but took until 12th to struggle into the Downs against bad weather and southerly winds. Not until 20th did they reach Spithead where the infantry, marched from camp at Netley, had to be embarked off Stokes Bay beach. Bad weather strung this out for a week and the embarkation was not complete until 3rd November. On 5th those ships that had worked out to St Helens were hit by a gale and not until 11th was the fleet properly concentrated. At this point some ships mistakenly sailed away with another convoy bound for Gibraltar under Cornwallis. Another storm on 17th wrecked the initial sailing and most ships put back to St Helens again to repair damage.

The expedition sailed again on 9th December - out of season because of the level of emergency involved. Ponsborne left St Helens on Wednesday 9th with the main body but may have become separated in further storms on 12th and 13th December; the packet Westmorland, arriving home from Jamaica, reported speaking Ponsborne on 5th January, finding her in company with another Indiaman, the Phoenix, in latitude 24° 9'N, longitude 19° 45'W, safely bound for Barbados. On 24th January the main part of the fleet was dispersed by a tremendous Atlantic storm. For years these storms were known as “Christian’s Gales”. Christian and many of the ships, by now short of water and some ravaged by typhus, put back, the Indiaman Dutton being wrecked in Plymouth harbour right under the Citadel on 29th. Others pressed on, arriving in the West Indies independently as did Ponsborne . The bulk of the expedition, including ships which had been licking their wounds in Cork, sailed again under Cornwallis on 28th February. Christian finally left England with the reserves in March, arriving in ‘the Barbadoes’ in April. Whether the soldiery enjoyed their winter tour of the North Atlantic seems doubtful. General Abercromby who was in charge of the Army part of the expedition had arrived in Carlisle Bay, Barbados, on 7th March. Troops could now be allocated to particular islands.

Ponsborne was sent to Grenada, where she was wrecked 26 March in Outer Bacolet Bay. The day before she had joined two Royal Navy frigates in providing heavy artillery support during a British attack on a French fortification. What then happened to the Ponsborne is described by an eyewitness, Lt. Col. William Dyott: “There was a most unfortunate accident happened on the 26th. The Ponsburne (sic) East Indiaman, that had brought part of the reinforcement from Barbadoes, drove from her anchors and went to pieces in a very short time. All the hands were saved, but every article of stores, ammunition, etc., was lost. It was an awful sight seeing the power of the element dashing to atoms in the space of two hours so stately a production of man’s art.” The colours of the 3rd Foot were lost in the wreck - eight years later the government stumped up £33 9s 6d to buy replacements.

It is unlikely the anonymous divers know about this, or about all the personal gear which may have survived on board.

Had there been a Daily Mail then it would have had a lovely story of GOVT MAKES HASH OF MILITARY EXPEDITION.

My own interest is that Ponsborne's Captain was one of my ggggfathers.

I have put this in CA as the History forum seems to have vanished (GCO do you read me?)
With the best will in the world, unless the Buffs were trialling new, sheet-lead embossed colours (and people from Kent can be very odd, so you never know), they probably won't be in the best sort of condition by now. The rest of the kit will be fascinating, though.


Book Reviewer
With the best will in the world, unless the Buffs were trialling new, sheet-lead embossed colours (and people from Kent can be very odd, so you never know), they probably won't be in the best sort of condition by now. The rest of the kit will be fascinating, though.
I found myself yesterday watching the crabs laying up Fighter Command's ensign in Westminster Abbey "until it turns to dust". Never heard this expression applied to standards, guidons, etc but I assume this is standard - if you'll pardon the pun - practice


Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
It depends on the condition of the soil, stranger things have happened, anyone familiar with the story of the Metta Catharina? Loads of textiles and leather was brought up from her and much of it is as good as new. I've seen a gun case made from deerskin leather which was salvaged from her, it's amazing.

Edited just to avoid confusion: The gun case is new and made from leather which was salvaged from the ship as opposed to an old complete case which was salvaged.


Book Reviewer
If the main hull of Ponsborne has been well buried there may be interesting organic survivals as there were from the Mary Rose (shoes and leather jackets for instance). Maybe the poles (probably have proper Pongo name) for the colours could be still there? I would imagine that when embarked the colours would be cased and stowed in some prestigious position, perhaps in the Captain's cabin. However Ponsborne's stuff, presumably including the 3rd's 400 muskets, is in warm water so not so likely to escape destruction. Wait and see I suppose.

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